I have talked about St Andrew’s Church in general and my memories of the Choir and Cubs and Scouts. So here are the rest of my memories from that church. It’s going to be a blog without many useful illustrative pictures.
I have to do a little diversion before I talk about Confirmation, to remind you of some of the practices of the Church. Of course, when we were young we knew all this – partly because everyone was at least nominally Christian but also because we went to Sunday School and religion played a significant part in school life and education.
In those days children were almost all ‘christened’ as babies. This refers to the service of ‘baptism’ when babies become members of the church and are officially named. They are taken in under the care of their parents and ‘godparents’, who (at least in theory) help to bring them up learning Christian virtues and the Christian way of life. When they are sufficiently mature, just after puberty, they take responsibility for their own lives in the service of Confirmation.
While christening used to be almost universal, not everyone chose to go on to be confirmed. Now christening is less common but t remains more popular than marriage!
This represents the Church of England (Anglican) perspective. Roman Catholic, Methodist and other churches had slightly different practices.
So Confirmation is a rite of passage with its own church service, which I will come to later. (It’s a bit like Bar Mitzvah to the Jewish community but I don’t claim enough knowledge to know how close the two are.) I will come to the actual service later but let me say how it affected me.
Male children traditionally have two godmothers and one godfather (with a complementary situation for girls.) One of my godmothers lived in Australia and I think it was suggested that I could be confirmed in a year when she was visiting. The Confirmation service only takes place once a year. I was about thirteen so it was around 1960. As a significant present for the occasion I was given a wristwatch. This was not something cheap that any child would have at an early age. (I think an older brother had a watch as a 21st birthday present!)
There were about thirty of us and we had to prepare for the process by attending a series of weekly Confirmation classes, held in an informal way by the vicar at the vicarage. (Memories are a bit hazy but I think we were a group of boys with the girls having separate classes.) It was the only time I actually saw inside the vicarage, a very large house next to the church.
In theory we were being instructed in the doctrines of theology that were necessary for acceptance into the Church but almost all of it was a matter of talking through the services of Confirmation and Holy Communion. [I won’t go into what is meant by Holy Communion but it is a church service only for full members who have been confirmed.]
I remember two things about these classes. The vicar, Sam Erskine, was Irish and talked with an Irish accent. He pronounced the word ‘Wednesday’ as if it had three syllables (Weddensday) while to us it had just two (Wensday) and he explained its derivation from the Norse god Woden – as Woden’s Day.
He also pointed out that boys of our age might be beginning to have doubts about Christianity and its theology. He advised being confirmed first and leaving such doubts until later!
I won’t go into the service, where those confirmed effectively make vows to take responsibility for their lives back from the sponsors (parents and godparents,) except to note that, as for everything then it used the archaic language and style of the Book of Common Prayer. It was only held once a year because, unlike the ordinary weekly services, it needed a Bishop for the confirmation process.
It was a formal occasion. All the boys wore formal clothes and the girls had special white confirmation dresses. After the service, we met the Bishop and were each given a small prayer book signed by the Bishop.
[The book above is so familiar but, of course, mine was ‘for Men and Boys’. It’s from the right date. It must have been a red book with the light blue dust cover shown. I would never have taken the cover off. I don’t know why there were separate versions for boys and for girls. It is technically possible for an adult to be confirmed. I think there were two or three in our group of thirty or forty.]
So far in my musings about St Andrew’s, the church choir, cubs and scouts and confirmation have been roughly chronological. Later still, for the last part of my life at Ilford, in the mid-sixties, the church Youth Club was significant for my period of adolescence – from fifteen to eighteen. (Remember that until 1969 the age of majority was still 21.)
We met every Friday evening. It was a social gathering with coffee and table-tennis generally (perhaps always) with a visiting speaker.
I remember two speakers specifically. One talked about blood donation and I decided to volunteer for this as soon as possible. I was fairly convinced that in those days you had to be sixteen – but the limit is 17 now so perhaps it used to be 18. (Readers from the Ilford area may remember the King George Hospital, where I gave my first couple of donations.)
We also had a talk by a local headmaster, Ken Aston, who had refereed the FA Cup Final the year before. Of course we had amateur referees then!
Some of us went to co-educational (mixed) schools but many, like me went to schools for boys only or girls only. Youth Club was an opportunity for boys and girls to meet and for some there were the beginnings of what we now call relationships. (We used the words ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ when we were ‘going out’ together. This did not imply sex in any way – but it obviously did not always exclude it.)
As part of the fraternisation, the church hall and the areas outside were sometimes used for some furtive smoking. Cigarettes were common and easily available to adolescents bold enough to ask in shops. It was so common that the smell of smoke was probably pervasive throughout the building. (Nobody would think of smoking in church but the church hall and other rooms were not no smoking areas.)
I think it was a good youth club and it consisted of much more than the weekly meetings. In the weeks before Christmas we had carol singing and on bank holiday Mondays there was always a youth club hike.
It was easy to have hikes in the countryside because the London Underground Central Line used to go as far as Ongar. So an easy cheap ride took us to the Essex Countryside. We would walk as a group with the Youth Club leaders probable only about six or eight miles. My memories are of sunny days with a stop at a country pub for lunch. We did not drink alcoholic drinks and we stayed outside in the sun.
I have to give a special mention to Battle Abbey. This is a partly ruined abbey near to the town of Battle, the area believed to mark the Battle of Hastings of 1066. I won’t go into its history but it used to be privately owned. (It was sold to the government in 1976 and it is now in the care of English Heritage.)
We used to visit it in the sixties with the Youth Club for a week every year, camping in its grounds. I think we used the Scout tents and it was a bit like a Scout camp. We did our own cooking on camp fires. But there were separate all-boys and all-girls tents.
I am not sure what the status of the Abbey was at the time. It must have had some Christian connection with the Church. I think it may have been used as a retreat. But we hardly ever saw the Abbey. The building and grounds needed a lot of maintenance and we were effectively a work party in the grounds. We did things like weed clearing and I can remember tackling areas of long grass with a scythe. (Health and Safety was not such a significant consideration then. We all survived the use of dangerous equipment.)
[1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates is a parody of the history of England, written by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman and illustrated by John Reynolds. It first appeared serially in Punch magazine, and was published in book form by Methuen & Co. Ltd. in 1930.]
Although it was attached to St Andrew’s I don’t remember any religious activities in the Youth Club. The boys and girls tended to go to Evensong every Sunday as an opportunity to meet each other.
There was a well-established amateur dramatics group with performances several times a year in the Church Hall. I think the hall was always full. Generally it was a farce like those done so well on television by Brian Rix but I remember the slightly controversial decision to do Bartholomew Fair by Ben Johnson with some dialogue that would not have been considered appropriate in a church.
Sale of Work
Once a year, about October or November, there was always a Sale of Work, one of the main sources of church income. It was something between a glorified jumble sale and a fair – with stalls round the Church Hall and tea in the Wilson Room. (People drank tea. Coffee was unusual.) Some of the stalls were provided by church groups such as the Mothers Union and the choir. I think they still have something like it but under a different name.
That’s about it for St Andrew’s …